Why Are Caucasians Disinterested in the NBA?


By Paul M. Banks

There’s a very popular website entitled “Stuff White People Like.” I’m guessing you won’t find the NBA featured there and that’s a crying shame because the Association’s level of play is as exciting and entertaining as it’s ever been! The game is taking off all around the world as most of the website hits for NBA content come from outside the United States.

But I live in Chicago, the best sports town in the country. Nearly all of my white friends, who LOVE COLLEGE basketball and follow it religiously, ignore the NBA. Even during the postseason when the Bulls just played in the most exciting playoff series in league history. My Caucasian friends were more interested in the two local sub .500 baseball teams. And it’s not just my social network, or a Chicago thing; it’s part of a larger overall trend.

Is it just plain racism? The NFL has just as many players shooting their guns off in strip club parking lots and getting into fights. Baseball and hockey have just as many, if not more thugs in their respective leagues. In all of these sports, it’s just a tiny fraction of players who are malfeasant and miscreant- the overwhelming majority just go about their business and stay out of trouble

Yet the NBA (and no other league) is somehow stuck with the “collection of thugs” pejorative. You’ve heard the ignorant and incorrect slams over and over again: “no one plays defense, they don’t try, they’re a bunch of gang-bangers and lazy thugs.”   stephenjackson

I asked sportswriter Dave Zirin (author of four books and a column, Edge of Sports appearing on Sports Illustrated’s website. Also host of XM satellite’s weekly show, Edge of Sports Radio) about how these racist sports fans mask their bigotry, and also what type of things I should say to them in order to set them straight.

“They use euphemisms. I would say: first, you don’t know what you’re missing because the product is as good as it’s ever been. They got rid of the rules that inexplicably led to Steve Nash becoming a two-time MVP, made the game a lot more exciting in my book. I hated hand-checking and second, do you or do you no believe in racial profiling? And if people think that you can determine someone’s character based on the color of their skin and how they dress, that’s racist. If you’re deciding not to watch the NBA because someone has tattoos, that’s racist. They’re like ‘oh black people, tattoos, baggy jeans.’

That’s why I opposed the dress code stuff from David Stern and his whole move to give the league quote, red-state appeal. Those are Stern’s words by the way. Not that I disagree with him trying to broaden the sport or get into new states-  that’s cool as hell, but the way he was doing it seemed to say, you have uncertainties and fears about these young black guys with the corn rows and I’m going to validate your fears and do something about it. So instead of trying to build bridges and acknowledge that the reason there’s this gap between the black experience and the white experience in this country, has a lot more to do with gentrification, with stratification, with white flight, the deterioration of our cities, the gap between rich and poor. Instead of the NBA being a force for actually trying to be a bridge, David Stern took another approach and said ‘I’ll keep these guys in line,’ Zirin said.

During the last 30 years, the American middle class has dwindled significantly. The very rich have gotten much wealthier and the percentage of people living below the poverty line has shot way up. These trends increased at an even faster rate during the past eight years. NBA marketing followed suit, raising ticket prices to a ludicrous level and pricing out the middle and working classes. The league is still doing well from a financial standpoint, but suffering greatly from a public relations perspective. The league’s leadership demonstrated business acumen, but holds horrible misperceptions about American society. However, it’s not all their fault, as the media has dropped the ball on this too.

To quote a 2007 column of Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock: “It would {also} help if well-intentioned media offered some depth to their analysis of America’s complex racial dilemma…Black NBA players have aligned themselves in terms of attitude with hip hop/prison culture. Every one pretty much acknowledges that the NBA’s predominantly white in-arena fan base has a problem with the league’s hip-hop/prison image.”

I asked Zirin about the league’s blatant attempt to market itself to just the very top and the very bottom classes in American society.nbadresscode

“Stern even said, when talking about the dress code, words to this effect: we have to make the game attractive to our ticket buying fan base, it may not have been ‘attractive’ but the part I’m quoting verbatim is ‘ticket buying fan base.’ When you have tickets that cost an insane amount of money, I grew up in New York City I remember being 12-13 years old and me and my buddies pooling our allowance and going to see Magic Johnson or Jordan, you could do that.

It’s crazy and that’s true across the board in sports, but it’s especially problematic and destructive in basketball, because David Stern very artfully marketed hip-hop in the 1980s. He made the NBA a hip-hop league and made it very attractive to African-American youth, but also whites that were maybe looking to mainline a little bit with some black cool. He did that, but now the status of the league is on an anti-hip hop mission,” Zirin responded.

Clearly, the league has painted itself into a corner regarding how they’ve marketed themselves. The NBA’s relationship with hip-hop culture has become maladaptive, disjointed and conflicted. That could be a big reason why the Caucasian consumer class, middle class and working classes who embraced the game during the Larry Bird/Magic Johnson/Michael Jordan era are long gone, and probably not coming back any time soon- unless the league higher-ups take a long, hard serious look at how they promote, market and price their product.